Publishing: A Beginner’s Guide by Heather A Busse

Like many writers, I am a member of several online writing groups and before I went back to school, before I ever had anything published, and before I began earning my whole income from writing and editing I too had no clue about what it takes to “make it”.

Yep, long sentence ^ and that is a darling I might one day kill. But that isn’t the point of this post. No this post is about navigating the shit that is professional writing, editing, and publishing. You see, the rules change. It depends. Grab a pen and paper, or just bookmark this information, or ignore it. It’s your choice.

If you write fiction and want to get your work out there for readers to consume, you’ve probably asked about getting published. There are options and with each option a set of criteria or guidelines to know before you spend any money or sign any documents.

Traditional Publishing

With established traditional publishers, particularly the large publishing houses, writers must query through an agent. An agent will represent your work to the publishers they think will most likely want to purchase your book. This means gaining the attention of a professional agent.

Agents and publishers have criteria for what they’re looking for in a book. Some only handle romance. Some handle children’s books. Some handle a variety. It depends on the agent and the publisher. Consider the best fit for your book. Who is representing books like yours, who is publishing books like yours? Those are the agents you’ll want to query when your manuscript is completed.

Say you get an offer? You’ve created a story from stone, written the manuscript. You had writers and readers workshop it for you and provide feedback. You revised it and hired an editor. The editor polished the stone into a gleaming diamond. You queried agents and received rejections. You revised a bit more. Finally, an agent accepts your book and starts approaching publishers. One of them has an offer.

A traditional publisher will often have a contract where they buy the rights to your work, they receive the lion’s share of the sales, they have editors, artists, designers, and will work with a printer to produce your book. They may even have some marketing prepared. *Though a writer will have to help in that too. Some publishers provide an advance against the sales. This is money that they pay the author before the book sells. The amount varies from very little, none, or quite a lot. It depends on the projected success of your book. This advance goes back to the publisher once your book starts selling. If it doesn’t sell, the publisher is most often out the money. If it sells and sells well, the publisher gets the advance back and you get royalties. Your agent gets a percentage of those royalties. Payday for everyone!

That’s the basics for traditional publishing.

A few things of note. NEVER give a publisher money up front. That’s a vanity press. They’re not earning money from selling your book, but from you paying them. Same for agents. If they don’t successfully sell the book, they don’t make the money. This is subsequently why agents and publishers are so persnickety. They often go with what sells for their specific business focus.

Self Publication

With this method of publication, it’s easy for writers to take shortcuts and produce some of the worst writing readers have ever seen in print and on eBooks. I don’t recommend it. As a writer, you’re building a brand and reputation. Eventually, you may gain enough notice that famous publishers and writers see your work. If that happens and your catalog of titles was never revised or edited, they might not work with you. At the very least, they will poke some fun. Your work may become the talk of literary critiques in print and in the media. It may sweep all of the social media readers’ groups and wow have I seen readers and writers slam poorly written and edited books.

Write your manuscript. Have readers and writers provide feedback (for free), revise it, get an editor and pay them. You’ll thank yourself later. Make payment arrangements with editors who are willing to work with you. Some few are willing, but many are not as they’ve been shorted in the past. If you find a professional willing to help, create an arrangement and pay on time.

Hire an artist for the cover and someone who can format your book. You’ll want your book formatted for print and eBook. Many platforms like Ingram Spark and Amazon have eBook and print on demand options. You’ll want a full wrap cover for print. Hire an artist. It’s worth it. You will have art especially for your book, instead of obviously slapped together cut and paste public domain stock photos. Professionals have original art. Be a professional.

Market your book. Start talking with readers and writers about it. DON’T spam it. Network! Get your name out there on social media, do readings, join groups, create a blog. Talk with others, so people will know about your book. If you can afford it, definitely do some paid advertisement, but self promotion can help. Many writers attend conventions and sell books that way too.

The big thing about self publishing is owning your rights fully and also being fully responsible for all aspects. You’re mostly in control of schedules and production. I say mostly, because artists, editors and other people you may work with along the way have their own lives and schedules too.

At any rate, I hope this helps and best of luck!